Rickter Scale: The view through a smoky mirror

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

The demon nicotine queen got her grip on me the day my mother bundled me up in a newborn’s blanket for that first road trip within days of my birth. I’m sure my parents both smoked in the car on the way home, as did almost everyone they passed in the halls of the hospital in 1950. Fortunately, the windows in the car were probably cracked open a little, one of the health benefits of being born in June.

That windows were sealed shut, however, when the family went Christmas shopping, three or four of us fidgeting in the back seat while the youngest of six kids was perched on my mom’s lap or nestled between her and my dad. Both parents puffed away on the 40 to 50-minute drive downtown from the suburbs of St. Laurent, their way of preparing to keep track of a collection of escape artists in varying sizes and speeds, all bent on running amok through Eaton’s, Simpson’s or Ogilvy’s.

Everyone smoked everywhere in that golden age of tobacco in the 1950s and ‘60s, long before there was a whisper of evidence that it may not be as good for you as the tobacco corporations had everyone to believe. Cigarette propaganda ruled the airwaves on television and radio, while newspapers and magazines pitched their products in full page spreads. I can still hear the martial-flavoured music that accompanied the rousing chorus of “Mark Ten for Men! Mark Ten for Men! Man-sized taste! Man-sized taste! Mark Ten for Men!”

READ MORE: Rickter Scale

Every restaurant had ashtrays on the tables, every department store had those shiny big brass receptacles that could easily handle a couple of dozen butts beside every elevator and at the top and bottom of every set of stairs.

Many of my classmates lit up by the time they were 12, often egged on by their older siblings or friends as a rite of rebellion. Despite the strict regimen imposed on students at our high school by the ruling Brothers of the Sacred Heart, students were allowed to smoke on school property during recess and lunch hours providing they produced a note of consent from their parents.

My older brothers no longer had to sneak a puff once they started working and contributing to help my parents with the cost of raising six kids in the dark ages before a national medical plan. There was always three or four open packs on the kitchen table, and everyone lit up within seconds of the youngest child’s last mouthful of dinner. Dad preferred Buckinghams, while my mother was partial to Players, for her a comforting, familiar facsimile of what she started smoking growing up in England during the Second World War.

I didn’t smoke, resisting throughout my teens until I turned 18. Odd, considering I grew up in a nicotine canopy and most of my friends and girlfriends had started years before. How I got hooked, line and sinker is a perplexing and peculiar story in itself, one best saved until next time.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist. This is the first of a series of Rickter Scales that details the writer’s struggles with tobacco addiction in graphic detail, and his ongoing efforts to quit.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Two dogs rescued from Colwood house fire

Black Labrador retriever rescued and revived by West Shore crews

UVic partners with harm reduction groups to run a drug checking pilot project

The three-year pilot will allow people to test their drugs for fatal ingredients like fentanyl

Public asked to give feedback on proposed protection measures for southern resident orcas

Measures focus on key threats related to contaminants, lack of prey, noise or physical disturbance

Highway 1 just south of Malahat Drive to see lane expansion

Langford stretch between Leigh Road and Westshore Parkway will see additional lane and median

Province announces more improvements for Highway 14

$85-million project made possible through federal funding support

What’s age got to do with it? B.C. couple with 45-year gap talks happy marriage

An Armstrong couple that has 45-year age gap began turning heads after being featured on show Extreme Love.

Wanted by Crime Stoppers

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you think the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris should be rebuilt?

Images of one of the word’s most iconic landmarks were seared into… Continue reading

B.C. men challenge constitutionality of Canada’s secret no-fly list

Parvkar Singh Dulai says he received a “denial of boarding” notification under the no-fly program last May 17

Murder on B.C. property didn’t need to be disclosed before sale, court rules

Buyer had tried to break contract after learning a man with ties to crime had been murdered there

B.C.’s largest Vaisakhi festival target of threatening Facebook post: Surrey RCMP

Police say they are investigating the posts on Facebook, after local MLA forwarded screenshots

Pug life: B.C. town boasts waggish list of dog names

Freedom-of-information request lists most ‘pupular’ dog names registered in White Rock

VIDEO: Duncan-Nanaimo’s Funkanometry bow out of ‘World of Dance’ with ‘After Hours’ routine

Judges praised them as entertainers, and urged them to work a bit more on their dancing

Most Read